Puerto Rico Senate to consider gender equality in public schools
SAN JUAN — Despite opposition from New Progressive Party (NPP) senators to the bill that proposes to implement education with gender perspective in Puerto Rico’s public school system, the bill will be voted on this week, Senate Majority Leader Carmelo Ríos said.
“We are ready to see it. There will be a debate and I anticipate there will be mixed votes,” he told Caribbean Business.
Senate Bill 171, authored by Sen. Zoé Laboy, seeks to create a pilot program for coeducational schools aimed toward promoting gender equality, which is nothing other than equality between men and women. It also seeks to prevent discrimination in public schools.
According to various sources, the bill filed by Laboy on Jan. 9 has been met with resistance from majority delegation senators who confuse gender equality with gender perspective. However, the Senate leader said the bill will be considered Thursday or before the end of the week.
If enacted, Education Secretary Julia Keleher and the Woman’s Advocate would have to create a group comprising several community members to design a curriculum and develop strategies to prevent gender discrimination.
Gender equality seeks to empower girls and boys with education so they may have the same social, economic and professional opportunities. The coeducational project would be implemented in 10 elementary schools selected by the Education secretary.
As stated in the bill’s statement of purpose, the model seeks to eliminate stereotypes between sexes, thus overcoming social inequalities and cultural hierarchies between boys and girls.
“Coeducation has a double effect: It contributes to modernize and adapt the school and the educational process to society’s demands, and it also shapes up to be a engine for change to advance toward effective equality between men and women in all areas and spaces,” SB 171 reads.
The author of the bill emphasized that Puerto Rico needs to take firm steps to turn gender equality into reality, and that is why she believes educating minors on this topic is of vital importance.
“I believe pilot bills are a responsible way to implement something and measure effectiveness. The good thing is that the bill forces the Education secretary to come to the Senate and offer details on the implementation of the curriculum with gender equality in 10 schools that she identifies as being in areas with high incidences of domestic violence.
“The important thing is for boys and girls to learn at a young age that it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl, but that we should all have the same social, economic and professional opportunities,” Laboy said.
The NPP senator acknowledged that, although “there are still some people who don’t agree” with her bill, she is backed by a substantial number of those in her delegation, as well as of minority delegations, including independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot.
“I respect those who differ from my bill, but I am convinced that Puerto Rico needs to take firm steps for gender equality to be taught to boys and girls. My goal is that after two years, this pilot will be implemented in all of Puerto Rico’s schools,” she added.
Moreover, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Senate Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia deemed the bill “a small step forward” from Gov. Ricardo Rosselló‘s administration after they backed down on gender equality.
“My position is that this administration has taken 10 steps backward on the subject of gender equality, and this bill is like taking a small leap forward. I believe in the concept of gender equality; I am in favor of any educational effort toward gender equality, but I believe this is a great hypocrisy from the NPP delegation,” Bhatia denounced.
The PDP legislator and former Senate president argued that the bill lacks mechanisms to measure progress in schools in regard to education about gender equality.
“I am inclined to vote in favor of the bill, but we will have a caucus on this bill,” he added.
Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Juan Dalmau said he is still evaluating the bill to define if it fulfills the goal of teaching gender equality in classrooms.
“Gender equality must be included in the curriculum as part of schooling, but I have to look at whether the bill articulates those objectives. I have to evaluate that a diluted curriculum isn’t established, and that is why I want to examine the legislation. Conceptually, I am in favor of education with gender equality,” Dalmau told Caribbean Business.